The U.N. refugee agency reports 42 million people were forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution at the end of last year. In its annual report, the UNHCR said most of the world's refugees and internally displaced people are in developing countries.
The report said the number of uprooted people reflects a sharp slowdown in repatriation and more prolonged conflicts, resulting in victims remaining homeless for longer periods of time.
The total includes 16 million refugees and asylum seekers and 26 million internally displaced people uprooted within their own country. The U.N. refugee agency noted the number of IDP's it cares for has more than doubled since 2005. This indicated that more people are being forced from their homes as a result of civil conflict than international wars.
UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond said the vast majority of uprooted people are in developing countries. He said the poorest nations hosted 80 percent of all refugees.
He said this underscores the disproportionate burden carried by those least able to afford it, as well as the need for international support.
"It also shows that some of the more vocal criticism that you hear in some industrialized countries from populist politicians and some media about being "flooded" with refugees is perhaps a bit overdone when you consider that 80 percent of the world's refugees are in the poorest countries least able to afford it," he said.
Last year's total of 42 million uprooted people represents a drop of about 700,000 over the previous year. But the UNHCR noted new displacement in 2009 has more than offset the decline. This includes substantial new displacements in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Somalia.
In addition, the report documented several longer-term internal displacement situations in places such as Colombia, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.
Redmond said repatriation in 2008 was down. He said altogether about two-million refugees and internally displaced did go home. But, that, he said, is substantially down from the year before.
"Refugee repatriation, which was about 604,000 going home was down 17 percent, while internal displacement returns at 1.4 million were down 34 percent over the previous year. It was the second lowest repatriation total in 15 years and this decline in part reflects deteriorating security conditions, namely in Afghanistan and Sudan," he said.
Redmond said 11 million refugees have returned home during the past 10 years, most with UNHCR assistance. But that number now is going down.
The report found major refugee-hosting countries in 2008 included Pakistan, Syria, Iran, Germany, Jordan, Chad, Tanzania and Kenya. And, it said major countries of origin included Afghanistan and Iraq, which together account for nearly half of all refugees under the care of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.